8 ways to prevent burnout in the job search

Here’s a story about a man I knew years back. His name was Ted and he was in his sixties, failing in health, and had a frail wife at home. I saw him often when I visited an urban career center in central Massachusetts.


One day I was conducting intakes of participants for a computer training program I was coordinating. After my sixth intake I was exhausted, so I walked over to where Ted always sat.

I asked him how things were going in his search. He told me not so good. Curious, I asked him how much time he was spending on the job search. He told me he spent 60-70 hours a week on it. “The job search is a full-time job,” he told me without skipping a beat.

I asked him how things were going in his life. I meant his home life, not his job search. With all seriousness he told me that his wife and he were on the verge of a divorce. “She’s mad at me being out of the house so much,” he said, as his eyes teared up. “But I have to find a job,” he finished.

While it was unclear whether a divorce was eminent because  of the long hours Ted was spending looking for work, it was crystal clear that the outrageous amount of time he was spending was doing more harm than good.

When I tell this story to my workshop attendees, I end by saying, “Don’t be like Ted.” I tell this story when bringing up the topic of commitment to the job search. How many hours should one commit to the search? If the job search is a full-time job, as Ted said, should jobseekers dedicate that much time?

My answer to them is no; spending as much time on the job search as Ted did can lead to burnout. Some ways to prevent burnout are:

1. Don’t start immediately

There’s no rule, written or unwritten, saying you need to start looking for work as soon as you lose your job. I generally suggest taking one (two at most) weeks to decompress after you’re given the word. Read this article for more on starting your job search.

One job seeker told me yesterday that he had to take two months off to clear his head. I don’t know what his mental state was, but doing this puts you behind the eight ball in terms of getting momentum in your search. It also may create a larger  gap on your resume.

2. Develop a plan

The plan I’m speaking of should ideally be day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, which can be kept on an Excel spreadsheet. If this seems a bit daunting, try to reach at least 60% of your goals.

Don’t exceed five hours a day during the week and don’t let up on the weekends, which can be a great opportunity to put a bug in people’s ears about your situation. Without a plan you’ll end up spinning your wheels, going nowhere quick.

3. Use different methods to look for work

Networking has always proved to be the best way to look for work. Supplement that with LinkedIn. Make follow-up calls. Even knock on companies’ doors if it’s a possibility. Contact your alumni association. Call on recruiters and staffing agencies.

Spending six hours a day on the Internet is not a good use of your time. You’ll feel more productive if you employ a variety of methods; just don’t spread yourself thin. Four methods should be fine.

4. Take a break or two

You are most likely going through a roller coaster ride of emotions. You need time to take occasional breaks to regroup. Not too long, mind you; but long enough to regain your energy.

Go on walks or to the gym, or if the weather’s nice sit on a bench and take time to reflect about your plan. Decide on a day during the week when you’ll put the job search on hold; maybe go to the beach with your family, or putter around the house.

5. Volunteer in your area of work

Volunteering is a good idea for a number of reasons.

  1. You put yourself in a position to network with people who are currently working and may have ideas or contacts who can be of use.
  2. Two, it keeps you active; you’re not spending time sitting at home behind your computer.
  3. Finally, you can enhance the skills you have or develop new ones. Perhaps you’re an expert at HTML but need to know Java. Find an organization that needs a website developed and has the time for you to get up to speed.

6. Get job-search assistance

Your local One-Stop career center, an outplacement agency (if you were granted one by your employer), and alumni association are sources of job-search advice. And they will also keep you preoccupied from your current situation.

Many people who come to our career center speak not only of the advice we provide, but also the emotional support we give them.

7. Join a networking group

The benefits of joining a networking group, large or small, are obvious; but consider how they can offer support. Networking groups have their pros and cons.  I tell my workshop attendees that you get what you put into them.

A buddy group consisting may be more to your liking; it consists usually of four to five people. Whichever you prefer, keep in mind that you must offer career advice and support as well.

8. Seek professional help if needed

Sometimes the stress of being out of work is too much to handle on your own. You may feel anxious and even depressed. It’s important to realize this, or take advice from family and friends, and seek help from a therapist. You may find talking with a third-party person refreshing, non-judgmental.

I don’t know what happened to Ted, how his job search went and if his marriage lasted. Before I left him that day—the last day I saw him—I told him to “give it a break.” I’m not sure he took my advice; he probably didn’t due to his stubborn nature. He was unrelenting in his desire to find a job. I see hints of Ted in some of the job seekers who come to our career center. And I worry they’ll turn out like Ted.


5 thoughts on “8 ways to prevent burnout in the job search

  1. Jan Mead

    Thank you for a great article. One of the points I appreciate most is to to use different methods In job search. I hear too often of people who devote all, or most, of their effort and time to online job search. This can feel like a deep black hole, because it really can be. As you advised, it is important to get out from behind the computer and network.


  2. Marie

    Thanks Bob. The emotional side of this journey can be rough on the unemployed and also their family. The support for all is essential. I feel I’ve learned from the mistakes I made early on. Getting to my first networkers meeting took me time because I thought it would be a pity party, and as a fellow introvert it is hard to ask for help. However, I found I could also try to help people and it made the interaction easier. Smaller “Buddy Groups” have also been very useful for me personally. It can be a way to stay accountable. As you say, it is a balance of several things that make it work. Big Yes! To getting out of the house. Thanks!


    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Thanks, Marie. I know what you mean by networking groups being potential pity parties. I’ve been to some as a presenter and seen people who are just going through the motions. I’ve also been to networking groups where people there were proactive and positive. For introverts, the buddy groups can be especially useful. You’re not exposed to as many people, but there is structure, support, and the opportunity for mentoring. Thanks for you comments, Marie.



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